Newspaper ad layout: The good and bad
Many newspaper websites fail their readers by cramming too much on their pages, especially the homepage. Whitespace, typography, color, alignment and navigation are poorly executed. Major news providers have improved recently, but many smaller newspaper websites are just plain ugly. Their homepages are widgets and ads thrown together with a few links to content. It's important to consider proper ad placement on the website. While design is a holistic approach and ad placement isn't everything, a focus on ads is important as they represent a major source of revenue for most sites.
Pages with too many ads
Many smaller newspapers are guilty of placing too many ads on their website's homepage. Yes, these advertisements do their job of grabbing the attention of visitors, but in the examples below they overwhelm the page. The goal should be to provide quality community news, not appear as a cheap advertising outlet. Below are three real screenshots of ad placement gone wrong. Ads are in red. This does not take into account ads that are below the fold.
Rapid City Journal: the content has been laid out well, but the ads are overwhelming as they take up most of the space. Content is not the focus, the ads are. The large blocks on the right and left are background advertisements. Note: the ad placement has since been updated.
The Randolph Leader: the layout of this website feels like various parts were thrown together. It makes poor use of whitespace and has too many ads. This website needs a complete redesign of its homepage by refining what it has and reducing the ads.
Press Times: this website has too many ads. Very little actual content is visible. If you remove the widgets and graphics only a small area is dedicated to news.
Content with intrusive inline ads
If an article has intrusive inline ads, ads that are placed inside the content area, the user will get frustrated while reading and the overall experience will be tainted. Advertisement has its place, but when it's displayed improperly it crowds the page and lowers the website's quality. Consideration must be given to strike a careful balance between displaying ads inline and allowing the content to be seen. When in doubt it is safer to lean on the side of less advertising.
With careful thought and planning you can reduce your ad footprint, tweak the layout and modify the navigation. Your website should focus on content. This means a rock solid design that is beautiful but doesn't get in the way. Go minimal on the ads, lay out your pages better and make content number one.
Ad placement done well
WSJ: This website gets it right, their homepage has one ad. The rest is content. Being that the Wall Street Journal operates behind a paywall, they can afford to focus on content.
Dubois County Herald: We were approached by this small-town newspaper to create a clean design, and a minimal interface with a focus on content. Their homepage has one ad.
Fox News: While not a newspaper website this image shows how a news outlet has done a good job of designing their homepage. They have one main ad and another tiny ad. Content is their focus.
Thoughts on proper ad placement
- Predetermine ad spots in the design
Decide ahead of time how many ads you are going to allow per page, especially the homepage. No more than two variations of ad sizes on one page. You don't want to wear out your eyes looking at them. The ad must mean something to your visitors. Contextual ads are far more relevant than ads appealing to mass markets. Google and Facebook have been playing with this for years.
- Keep the spots limited
Reducing the amount of ads on your site brings up a question. Without revenue how will the site survive? I'm not going to the website to look at the ads, I'm going so that I can read your content. Instead of making me pay with ad impressions, make it easy for me to pay with a subscription.
So how can you afford to reduce the ads?
Content is what your users want and are willing to pay for, so give it to them. Enter the paywall. Charge a subscription fee to your users. They are there for your content, and with their monthly subscriptions you'll be able to focus on high quality content without relying solely on ad revenue. The argument has been given that news content should be free and available to all. When you sign up with a paywall it's not the content that you are paying for, it's the work of gathering and editing the content (journalism) that is being paid for. When it comes to paywalls we recommend a split approach, where some content is free and some is paid. Check out our article on paywalls to see the line of delineation. Paid subscribers means you can provide higher quality content, and a better design with less ads. I didn't say get rid of advertising entirely, just make it more minimal.
In the end you will have happy and loyal customers. Make readers number one. Focus on quality journalism, content, and sharing top notch stories, and you'll have a service people will pay for.
Joshua Wold, Lead Designer